National Geographic : 1958 Jan
Slow Boat to Florida lights to mislead ships. Sailors thought they marked safe passages and drove onto the shoals. Then the wreckers helped themselves to the cargoes. "One wrecker is supposed to have tied a lan tern to the neck of an old nag he led, to imitate the bobbing light of an anchored ship. And that's how this town got its name, they say." Nags Head village was in a state of siege. On all sides lay the ravages of the Outer Banks' most implacable enemy-shifting, wind-borne sand. Along the ocean, cottages stood on stilts, with waves of sand, not water, piling up be neath. Nailed to the weathered shingles of one were boards salvaged from wrecked ships and bearing their names: Flora Rogers, Pe conic, William H. Macy, Mary Lee. By ferryboat we crossed Oregon Inlet with fishermen and vacationers. Then, with Pam lico Sound on the right and the Atlantic on the left, 50 miles of Hatteras Island stretched ahead. Except for a few picturesque villages, all of it is included in the wind-swept wilder ness of Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area. Long before we reached it, we could see the black-and-white tower of Cape Hatteras Light, tallest in the United States. Up the 265 steps we puffed and spiraled. From the top, 191 feet above ground, we looked down upon a fleet of wrecked vessels jutting starkly through sand and surf. Chief Boatswain Harold R. Daniels of the U. S. Coast Guard told us that hundreds-perhaps thousands of ships had been lost in this "Graveyard of the Atlantic" (pages 22 and 23). Men Turned the Tide at Cape Hatteras Cape Hatteras Light sends a 23-mile beacon flashing out over treacherous Diamond Shoals; 15 miles at sea, Diamond Shoals Lightship rounds out the marine warning system. When the Cape Hatteras tower was built in 1871, some 1,500 feet of beach separated it from the sea, but the waves ate the sand until they were lapping at the tower's very base in 1935. Then the National Park Serv ice came to the rescue, built sand terraces, and planted special grasses and shrubs. The tide was literally turned. Now a healthy stretch of erosion-proof land stands between tower and sea. Snug again in Tradewinds, we cruised south ward across Albemarle Sound. The next major port, Belhaven, was beyond reach of a day's run. So we sheltered midway at an Army Engineers maintenance wharf in a side canal. Mosquitoes? "Not Bad Yet" Here a swing bridge carried an occasional car or truck across the waterway on Highway 94, and the sound of tires zinging away into the night was almost welcome in this lonely spot. Steep wooden stairs took us up to the highway to talk to the bridge tender. We asked about mosquitoes. "Not bad yet," he drawled, batting at a persistent hum in the air. "But in another month they'll like to eat a man up." About midnight the loneliness was shat tered by three basso profundo horn blasts. As we rushed on deck, the bridge began swing ing open with a clanging of its bell. A tug boat appeared, backed into our side canal, and sat there huffing and puffing. Then we saw what it was waiting for: a giant Army Engineers dredge, pushed by two tugs, squeezed through the draw. The suction of its passing drew water out of our canal, and Tradewinds strained at her lines. Then the first tug, after beaming a searchlight on us, followed the dredge down the waterway. The bridge closed. An owl hooted. All was quiet again. Everybody we met along the waterway spoke warmly of Belhaven as a stopping place, and upon arrival there we quickly learned why. A jovial Tarheel named Axson Smith has turned a roomy old mansion into River Forest Manor and dedicated it to the care and feeding of water-borne travelers. When we grounded on a Pungo River sand bar, it was Axson who came out in his cruiser and pulled us off. When we called for extra dock lines, supplies, or repairs, Axson saw that our needs were met. His jeep and sta tion wagon were available for shopping or touring the countryside. On Sundays he and Mrs. Smith spread a mammoth smorgasbord; Azaleas and Cypresses Bank the Shores of Greenfield Lake Each year, in late March and early April, more than a million azaleas turn Wilming ton, North Carolina, into a gigantic garden. The floral fiesta attracts 250,000 visitors. Wilmington artists (below) hold an open-air exhibit in Cottage Lane.